Body as Archive
Living in the world of ‘forced’ amnesia, we are constantly told what to remember, what to forget, what story to tell and re-tell. The idea of memory, history and its subsequent re-enactment becomes problematic.
This memory when accumulated, preserved and retrieved over a body, creates a bodily archive. Through parallel explorations of Indian classical and Iranian 11:ational dance, we explore the primary source: body as archive.
It is the classical/national dance which has witnessed an oral transmission of a fixed pedagogical knowledge. It is the classical/ national dance where there is a constant strife between what the body is told to remember and what the body actually remembers.
Body as Archive attempts to know this particular classical body at a particular time with particular motivations through unique enactment in the curatorial space. This project re-defines what is understood as archive and what is understood as reenactment and also discover whether the curatorial space could be the point of intersection of the tangible and the intangible, the frozen and the ephemeral, the remembered and the forgotten.
The key question still remains: Can memory be frozen or imposed?
Co-curators Sumedha Bhattacharyya and Hediyeh Azma together and parallely attempt to explore and provoke the politics of their own body as dance practitioners and curators with an archival lens of Indian ‘Classical’ dance Kathak and Iranian ‘National’ dance. Through a time-distorting, multi-media performance installation, the dancer’s body accesses and adds to archive of collective memories of Kathak and Iranian dance artists. Broader notions of history, truth and memory are evoked by the curators as dance practitioners, through an artistic identity that is traditional, but an embodied existence that is contemporary.
In Iran, constructing Iranian National Dance in the 60s was part of the state’s policy to create a collective memory and national identity. The Islamic revolution went a step further in eradicating dance from the socio-political sphere as neglected ‘former’ dancers became hidden figures of the Iranian art scene.
In the post-revolution era, however, when dancers are constantly trying to find new modes of breaking out, the enactment of dance has become a form of resistance. Body as Archive in its Iranian part tries to provoke and excavate the question: How does looking at the body as an archive reveal the erased memory of a rich tradition? How does listening to the bodies and their stories lead us to see the its potential and its limitations? And how is the transformation from classical to contemporary shaped in the malleable form that is the body of the Iranian dancer.
Aida Mirza Khani
In the Indian classical dance tradition, Kathak, the reclamation of Indian culture and national pride began over one hundred years ago and the revivalist vision of the dance tradition was embraced during Independence over sixty years ago. Kathak came to be reduced to seduction by the female body, and everything in Kathak was related to just that. Moreover, this revivalist vision led to a dominant monolithic narrative of Kathak as a North Indian dance, one that privileged the Hindu, male and religious tradition, while it largely succeeded in masking the dance’s long tradition of syncretism.
What is Kathak though at its root? “Katha Kahe so Kathak”, they say. The storyteller is the Kathak.
Like storytelling, Kathak has travelled and evolved through multiple influences on
its form, execution and history. Yet, in its revivalist classical paradigm, Kathak still emphasizes a ‘fixed’ pedagogical knowledge. This continues to forge a constant battle between what the body is told to remember and what the body actually remembers. Considered the most traditional form , Kathak went through shifts in patronage, location, venue, and context which fused to make it the dance that it has become now. We must therefore realize that there is not just one story of Kathak, but many. Limiting our understanding of a tradition that has travelled, and continues to do so amidst a global cultural continuity as fixed is, thus, undermining the richness Kathak has to offer in its vibrant diversity.